DURING the countdown to Christmas, Bury’s police have launched a special “operation” to help keep people safe from crime. Bury Times was invited to join officers on the beat. BRAD MARSHAL reports.

WITH just under two weeks to go until Christmas Day, Bury’s town centre is daily hustling and bustling with extra shoppers and visitors.

On an average day over the festive period Bury can expect around 200,000 visitors, as people of all ages flock to retail, leisure and cultural destinations.

Keeping everyone safe and happy under such circumstances requires a mammoth and well organised operation ­— but Bury’s police officers are rising to the challenge.

Greater Manchester Police’s Bury Town Centre Neighbourhood Team is headed up by Inspector Scott Brady and Sergeant Martyn Bannister who together have masterminded the winter strategy ­— nicknamed Operation Yuletide.

Its main thrusts are embodied in visible and proactive policing alongside collaboration with partners and the community to combat thefts and antisocial behaviour.

Sgt Bannister said: “If we can prevent something from happening in the first place it’s far more effective and we can stop people becoming the victims of crime. It’s a major police operation because the more people you have in the town centre the greater the chance there’s going to be criminals in and amongst them.

“People are also buying presents for their loved ones, and there are a lot of nice shops in Bury, so they may be carrying more cash and high value items.”

This year’s Operation Yuletide represents a renewed and reinforced effort following a 25 per cent decrease in crime figures from the previous year, in Christmas 2018. And Sgt Bannister and Insp Brady and their team are hoping to beat that this winter.

The team carry out daily patrols covering major destinations and potential hotspots, including Bury Interchange, Bury Market and the town centre shopping district.

As well as their unformed patrols the team also have plain clothes officers ready to spring into action, and additional officers have also been drafted in from other Greater Manchester boroughs.

These patrols have built up strong working relationships with retailers and other partners, such as the security teams at The Rock and Mill Gate shopping centres, with whom they closely collaborate and share information to take on criminal behaviour.

Sgt Bannister said: “The idea is to be proactive not reactive. If a criminal sees two uniformed officers they are going to behave only up until they go away. But if there’s someone in plain clothes they often carry on. Then the plain clothes officers can step and deal with it themselves or call in the uniformed officers.”

Operation Yuletide has also brought in a temporary pop-up police station, which can be found by Bury Market on most days. The station is a “one-stop-shop” for people to report concerns, receive crime prevention advice and ask questions.

After our patrol, Insp Brady and Sgt Bannister headed over to Age UK Bury to introduce a special protective device to keep the borough’s senior citizens safe.

At the Clarence Park centre the officers handed out 1,000 purse alarms to prevent people, particularly pensioners, falling victim to pickpockets and purse-divers.

Made with a simple but effective design, the alarms consist of two small bells and a lobster clip which can be fastened to a purse, wallet or other valuable item.

When the item is removed or disturbed from within a bag or pocket the bells make a noise and alert the owner to a potential theft.

They were secured for Bury thanks to a bid from Sgt Bannister and Andy Hazeldine, chief officer at Age UK Bury, and have been funded from monies recovered by GMP from the Proceeds of Crime Act. This law allows the police to confiscate or recover items acquired as a result of crime and put the revenue made from selling them to good use and to benefit the community.

Sgt Bannister said: “It’s taking the money from criminals and putting it back into the community so the whole community can protect itself and be rejuvenated.”

Among those who received a purse alarm was Bury Age UK’s chairman, Joan Rees. She said: These alarms are absolutely fantastic.

“I live on my own now and feel very vulnerable so this is really reassuring. Now I can walk like a lady a not be scared.”

Mr Hazeldine added: “Anything that makes people feel safer is worth while and we are really pleased that the police came up with this and that they are supporting older people in Bury.

“Our relationship with the police is very important. The community police make regular visit here and its all about being visible. It lets our members raise any problems and helps the police with their own enquiries so they are aware.”